Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to stand today to speak to the motion by my colleague from Vancouver East which reads:
That, in the opinion of this House, the government should reverse the privatization of Canada Student Loans, reject proposals for income contingent loan repayment, and should instead implement a federal student grant program and establish accessibility as a new national standard for post-secondary education.
I would like to dedicate what I have to say today to three young women. One of them, who worked for me last term, is one of the many students in this country who are bowled over by crushing student debt. Another young woman had to declare bankruptcy because of the size of her student debt. The main crime of both of these women was that they chose to get a post-secondary education. The third young woman is 20 years old and is absolutely terrified about even entering the game because of the situation she now sees facing so many other people. These are the people I am thinking about when I talk about this motion.
The Liberal government has called itself the government of youth. At the same time it is engaging in a deplorable strategy of gutting funding for post-secondary education and privatizing Canada's student loans and forcing more and more students into severe debt.
This motion attempts to rectify this injustice. It also attempts to highlight the Liberal hypocrisy and make the link explicit between the drive to privatize post-secondary education and the increased hopelessness of students graduating into unemployment and even poverty.
It also should be made clear that, as the government retreats from its commitment to post-secondary education, the banks are moving in. More and more students are forced to borrow more money directly from banks in order to fund their education. Banks are not publicly accountable and have an interest in profit maximization, not in education and student well-being.
It is a strategy on the part of the Liberals to erode public funding for post-secondary education to the point where it is completely within the private sector domain.
With this motion the New Democrats are pressuring the Liberals to recognize the extent of the student debt crisis. We want the government to listen to what the students are saying.
I am interested in the comments from my colleague opposite about disabled students, and I would like to speak a bit about what is facing disabled students in this equation right now. Disabled students are still not at all facing a level playing field when it comes to post-secondary education.
We have enormously handicapped students or just mobility handicapped students who have to work around attendant care schedules. They really are handicapped by the schedules of others. What we need here and now is really a user friendly home care program that will meet the needs of students as they try to make it to classes at different hours of the day.
In my city we need more than two accessible taxis for students who have to find their way to universities. We have students who are dependent on wheelchairs and find themselves not able to get to school because their wheelchairs are in disrepair. They are in fact having to spearhead their own fundraising for new wheelchairs. It would be really unfair at this point to say that there is a level playing field for these students.
There are also a lot of hidden costs for disabled students, things like audio tapes and batteries and hundreds of ways that students have to pick up hidden costs.
Deaf students in Ontario have recently found their grants turned into loans. The cost of interpretation for a deaf and hard of hearing student is quite frankly astounding. It can reach up to $60,000 per student.
Let us not leave the impression that students with disabilities are feeling confident as they enter the slings and arrows of outrageous higher education.
I want to put forward some facts about post-secondary education. According to Human Resources Development Canada, 45% of new jobs by 2000 will require post-secondary education. That means for many young people attending university or college there is simply no option if they want to find work.
Despite this and despite saying they are committed to youth, Liberals continue to throw barriers in the way of young people struggling to develop the skills and talents necessary to get ahead in a cut throat global economy.
Since 1995 the federal Liberals have cut $1.5 billion from federal funding for post-secondary education. Since 1980 Liberal and Conservative governments have cut federal funding from $6.40 for each dollar of students to less than $3.
Tuition fees in Canada have reached a national average of $3,100 which surpasses the average tuition rate at publicly funded universities in the U.S. Bankruptcy rates for students trying to pay off loans are at a record level, having increased by 700% since 1989.
Currently we have 130,000 students in default. The number of bankrupt graduates is estimated at 37,000. There is a legacy. I really cannot get that out of my mind. I guess the first thing this motion urges, which I think is central, is that the government should reverse the privatization of Canada student loans.
In 1995 the Liberals gave financial institutions broader responsibility in the area of student financial assistance. Before that time, even though student loans were accessed through banks, they were fully guaranteed by government. Since then the federal government has ceased to guarantee student loans.
Instead it pays a 5% risk premium on all loans to participant lenders. It was the government's subtle way of saying that students are not to be trusted.
In the last budget the government announced another giant step toward privatization. Buried deep within the budget legislation currently in committee is a clause which gives banks more power to refuse student loans.
The clause allows cabinet, outside the scrutiny of the House, to determine which students do not deserve access to loans. The implications to that are staggering. Who is to say which guidelines cabinet will set? Will single mothers hoping to access loans be turned away because they missed their credit card payments?
Is this the first step toward giving banks total control over eligibility guidelines? How far are we from banks being able to determine which areas of study have a better return than others? For example, how profitable is it to get an education in the arts?
We are also concerned that privatizing student loans gives banks even more power on campus. CEOs and chairs of Canada's biggest banks already sit on boards of governors of many of Canada's universities and colleges. Privatizing student loans furthers their influence in shaping the direction of post-secondary education.
Why does business want in? It is simple. It wants control. Consider this statement by one time CEO of the Royal Bank Allan Taylor: “It is in business' best interest to get involved with funding for universities, but also with a direct involvement in setting courses, setting the curricula, so that it will get the kind of student it wants”. Big business has taken note. Across the country campuses are becoming a favourite stomping ground for big business elite.
This motion urges that the government should reject proposals for income contingent repayments. It urges the government instead to implement a federal student grant program and establish accessibility as a new national standard for post-secondary education.
New Democrats are not about to let the federal government forget about the student debt crisis. Instead of creating a scholarship program which duplicates existing programs and does nothing to help students in need, we have called on the federal government to take steps that will reduce student debt.
These include the end of privatization of Canada student loans and restoring this year's cut to education of $550 million. Following the suggestion of the British Columbia provincial government, work with the provinces to introduce a nationwide tuition freeze as the first step toward the elimination of tuition fees. Implement a national grant program to assist first and second year students and assist them to ensure students are provided with accurate information and are informed of their rights.
In the coming months the New Democrats will continue to work with others concerned about post-secondary education to make sure young people from low and middle income families do not have to mortgage their futures and their families to attend university or college.